Providing speech teletherapy: How I’m getting ready

It’s only been a few weeks since schools closed in my state. It feels like an eternity. My district has been preparing speech-language pathologists (SLP) like me to transition to teletherapy, but we haven’t gotten the green light yet.

For me, and for most of my colleagues, the initial reaction has been to kick into preparation overdrive. We’ve been in hurry-up-and-wait mode. So far, we have:

  • Mailed or emailed printable packets to families for at-home practice
  • Signed up for telepractice webinars
  • Shared with colleagues teletherapy resources we think are useful
  • Started planning for our first week of telepractice lessons in case we get the go-ahead soon

Preparing in these ways has helped reduce anxiety for some of us. It has made some of us feel more confident in our transition to teletherapy. But it has also made some of us feel overwhelmed. There’s still so much to learn, and it seems like there’s not enough time to learn it.

Gratefully, each day brings new lessons in how to prepare effectively and keep my worries in perspective. Here are six things I’ve learned since I started getting ready to practice speech teletherapy:

1. I don’t have to be a teletherapy superhero on Day 1. 

My first teletherapy session will not be my best. But I can still make it work, mostly using skills and materials I already have. The parents, students, and I will work out the glitches together. 

2. There are lots of resources to help me learn and improve my online practice.

Facebook’s SLP communities are brimming with suggestions and feedback. Pinterest is also overflowing with ideas for telepractice.

I have made a conscious decision to limit the resources I access regularly. I currently use American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) as my go-to for all things teletherapy. ASHA posts regular, comprehensive updates on telepractice services and coronavirus. It also provides a basic guide for new teletherapists. 

3. Speech therapy may not be every family’s first priority at this moment. 

Early contacts with parents have taught me to ask, “How are things going?” and “What do you need?” before discussing any distance learning options. 

In talking to my friends, my colleagues, and the families I serve, I’m getting a better sense of how to listen. I’m listening to families when they tell me what they actually need right now. I’m listening for the positive ways my colleagues are navigating these waters. And I’m listening to myself — setting reasonable work limits and allowing myself ample time for self-care. 

4. Not all families have equal access to technology. 

Some lack devices to meet their kids’ needs. Some lack internet service. Our district is working hard to get devices into the hands of families. The city has made its Wi-Fi service free during this crisis. But it’ll take time to equalize the playing field. 

In the meantime, I’m mailing or emailing materials they can use now. This includes monthly calendars of speech-language activities that families can practice with their student, thematic units from Boardmaker Activities-to-Go, or at-home practice sheets for articulation skills. 

5. Contact with my “work besties” is still important. 

As much as I can learn online or during a virtual staff meeting, nothing can replace close colleagues for supporting me through this transition. When I find myself at the end of my tether, I use FaceTime to take a coffee break with the people who make my work life fun. 

Luckily, these are also the friends who help me solve technology problems or generate novel lesson plans. I know I can go to them with my teletherapy conundrums.

6. We’re all new at this. 

Colleagues, students, neighbors, and friends — we’re all adjusting to a new normal. Almost all of us are learning how to connect with each other in unfamiliar ways. I look forward to collaborating and learning with families as we make speech therapy work at a distance.

Whatever the next weeks and months may hold, I’m grateful to be gaining new skills and connecting with families in meaningful ways. Making sense of a new form of therapy is only one piece of the puzzle. 


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